A Sliver of Wood
In my medicine pouch I carry|
A sage leaf for cleansing,
A tobacco tie for healing,
Motherswort for the gifts of the women,
And a sliver of wood
For the People.
Louisiana in January:
My new-found great uncle,
Conjured by the magic of the internet,
Points from the car.
“That’s where my dad died.”
I get out, wrapping my coat tightly around me,
Amazed that a forty degree wind
Can feel so goddamn cold to a New Englander.
Together we walk the long forgotten path --
Me, hurrying ahead and then stopping to wait;
Uncle carrying his ninety winters
Spryly in spite of himself.
“There”, he points.
“His bed was on the porch,
Cause it was cooler there.
We didn’t have no air-conditionin’”
Then, half-hidden in the woods I see it--
A once humble structure,
The ruins of a simple farmhouse
Long ago collapsed in upon itself.
I walk toward it.
Others have followed from the car.
“Go back”, I silently implore them.
“I need to speak to my Grandfather alone”
Climbing onto the rotten, lichen-covered remains,
I touch the place where he last breathed.
I have no tobacco for offering,
No cornmeal for thanksgiving.
Instead, from my head I pluck seven strands of hair
And, holding them skyward
I pray for the seven generations.
In return I am gifted a sliver of wood.
On the way back, I clutch the sliver tightly in my hand
Asking it to yield its secrets:
Will I ever know the mysteries you took to your grave?
Your monument stands tall in that parish cemetery,
A fitting tribute to the patriarch.
The bones of your children lie tucked neatly around you;
One lone survivor now bides his time to join you.
Next to you lies the woman
Who, as a twelve year old girl,
Came to you to be your wife --
Bore you six children,
Then wept as she lost
First her eldest, then you.
Learned to survive:
Shot a deer once and drug it two miles all by herself
To feed her family.
Remarried and bore more children
But in death, returned to spend eternity at your side.
In the car, her youngest son
Tells of her life.
Quite a remarkable woman she was.
I clutch the sliver of wood.
“She weren’t your Grandma, though.”
My uncle is speaking to me.
“My brother Ike’s mom was an Indian.”
My grandfather, who passed before I came.
My grandfather, born a full thirty years before his baby brother
Beside whom I now sit.
Whose mixed blood caused my mother to recoil in shame.
Red-haired, more Irish than Indian,
So we, her children, “passed”
Until we no longer knew
From where we came.
No one left now to answer my questions,
No one left now to show me.
Who was she, this great-grandmother of mine?
Who were her people?
Did she learn, at her grandmother’s knee,
The stories to tell her children?
Did she learn to make frybread?
Did she learn the prayers and the sacred ceremonies?
Did she bear the pain of epithets hurled:
Did she bite her lip and look them in the eye
The way that I am learning to face down
Those who would call me
Did she love this man
Who took her from her people,
Whose son she bore,
Who begat my mother,
Who bore me?
She’s gone now,
Buried in a long-forgotten grave,
Her secrets whispered quietly on the wind
In a language that I have forgotten how to hear.
I say a prayer
For all the lost Grandmothers
And for all the searching children.
I say a prayer
For Indians who name their children Isaac,
Who forget the ways of their Grandmothers
To follow a new life.
In my medicine pouch I carry
A sage leaf for cleansing
A tobacco tie for healing
Motherswort for the gifts of the women
And a sliver of wood
That pierces to the heart of who I am.
© Mel Dark Deer 8/2000
© 2010 darkdeer
(All rights reserved)